growth

This is the story about my growth as a person and a designer. I take on a holistic approach when looking at my work.
All the projects contribute to a total of 5 major interconnected reflections.

Development #1: Meaningful embodiments

We are in a constant effort of translating our digital systems to things we can understand as human beings. A designer is needed to translate them to physical-digital products. I already mentioned this in my vision, but during my master I've learned there is some more depth to it. I became aware the translation of digital systems means either (1) fusing, (2) re-enacting or (3) hiding aspects of it to be meaningful for people. Scroll down to see the examples.

fusing

Multiple digital properties are fused into one property communicating it all together. This can be seen my work of RunnersRatio and Abe where I have used multiple data points in shaping a single product behaviour.

re-enacting

A digital property is re-enacted in such a way it corresponds with the concepts we have in our minds (i.e. mental models). ProtoProbes is wonderful example of this where (1) the visibility of the data flow is embedded onto the hardware and (2) the data is presented in such a way it matches our perception of it (e.g. with accelerometer data). Another example can be seen in Abe where the programmed addiction embodied by the nervous movements the elastic ropes cause.

hiding

A digital property is hidden, because it isn't important for the interactions with the user or is simply fundamental for the functioning of the system. For example ProtoProbes contains multiple invisible optimization algorithms to be fast enough for web-based technologies and Olly stores all the music you have been listening to without showing this.

Development #2: Quality in interactions

The process of designing the embodiments of the digital world is a tedious and complex one. But what I've learned most is to choose the quality of interactions over functionality. Multiple user validation sessions for my work of ProtoProbes sparked my appreciation for qualitative research. In the past I only used quantitative methods, because of my minor in psychology and statistics. However, these qualitative sessions showed me the more human side of the problems and were needed for the discovery of the subtle changes needed to create quality in the interactions. Subtleties such as a snap-fit with a tiny spring when turning the top part of ProtoProbes contribute to the interaction so significantly it wouldn't work without them. Over the past year I've grown to have a keen eye for this and I hope to be able to develop this further in the future.

Development #3: Digital aesthetics

I always strive for aesthetics, both physically as digitally. Physical aesthetics is a concept easily explained. It depends on your choice of material, method of finishing, composition in shape, relations to the human body, etc. It was striking for me to realize that the notion of digital aesthetics is rather vague. Designers and engineers who have the opinion that this digital world is not required to have any aesthetic value, because you cannot see it anyway, are very naive. This is the part defining almost all the product behaviour. Therefore I can say half of the craftsmanship in a physical-digital product can be found in its programming. During my experience as a web-developer and the projects of ProtoProbes, Olly and Abe I've learned there are a few properties defining digital aesthetics: (1) semantics, (2) consistency, (3) appropriate abstraction and (4) elegance. They all contribute to the creation of beautiful, reliable and maintainable products.

Digital aesthetics: semantics

Semantics is a well-known term in computer science and is about giving the right names to the constructs you are describing in your code. Names such as 'parameter' or 'getValue' are too ambiguous and don't communicate where they are about.

Digital aesthetics: consistency

Consistency is very straight forwarded: use the same references to construct and try to use similar procedures when handling different tasks.

Digital aesthetics: appropiate abstraction

Appropriate abstraction is about reusability. Certain procedures in code can be abstracted in such a way they can be used for multiple tasks. However, the level of abstraction needs to remain close to what can be interpreted and what is appropriate for all the known tasks. A proper level of abstraction makes a products very reliable, as different tasks are handled by the same code and therefore show the same behaviour.

Digital aesthetics: elegance

Elegance in digital systems is very subjective. I've learned this is part of analysing the problem very well and defining what semantics and levels of abstraction are required to make the code as simple as possible.

Development #4: Tools for tools

I don't believe in universal, multi-purpose tools (yet). My graduation project, ProtoProbes, is the perfect example of this. It is a novel tool specifically designed for Makers and their interactive prototypes. Existing tools appeared to be not sufficient for this purpose. Building a completely new system was considered very inefficient to some people, but I've learned it's not about building it from the ground up. It's about merging existing platforms, web technologies and libraries into a coherent modular system taking its own way. In summary: using tools to build new tools. ProtoProbes currently contains more than 20 libraries, working together in an elegant way. I see the same thing happening with the Internet of Things movement, where it's about creating connections between existing systems instead of building them yourself. A designer is required to be efficient in this process to be able to focus on societal relevance and developments, instead of only technological.

Development #5: A digital craftsman

I could only find one proper term describing myself when looking at my projects and insights: a digital craftsman. Throughout my time as an Industrial Design student I've created a critical opinion about interacting with physical-digital products. Being a digital craftsman has two sides. I'm either shaping how digital information can be understood by humans (e.g. ProtoProbes, PHIL, RunnersRatio, Lassie) or I'm trying to transform a human concept to something in the digital world, as seen when creating an addicted lamp (Abe), a memory library of music (Olly) and a perception-changing interface (GHOST).

I hope to develop myself even further the coming years in crafting high-quality physical-digital products by striving for meaningful embodiments, quality in interactions and digital aesthetics while efficiently using existing technological tools.

Competence in design

Throughout my master I have developed three major pillars of expertise within the field of design: (1) embodying the digital world, (2) engineering through exploring and (3) validating with implementation. I deliberately focused on three expertise areas: Technology & Realization, User & Society and Math, Data & Computing, because these relate the most to my vision on design. Creativity & Aesthetics and Business & Entrepreneurship also played a big role during my master, but they don't have the emphasis of this story.

Pillar #1: Embodying the digital world

Embodying the digital world is part of the expertise area Math, Data and Computing. I'm an expert in analysing complex systems, defining entity-relationship models and creating algorithms, as I'm accustomed to work with various programming languages such as Java, PHP, CSS, HTML, JavaScript, Python, SQL, R and C. I put this into practise by making a physical and meaningful implementation in a societal context.

Pillar #2: Engineering through exploring

During the explorative phases I'm able make first steps towards an engineered and realized product (Technology & Realization). Because of this I can quickly synthesize towards a final prototype. This is reflected in ProtoProbes where a high-end prototype with dedicated software, custom PCB's and handmade casing was built in a few weeks.

Pillar #3: Validating with implementation

Validating with implementation shows my drive to make concepts functional by integrating existing technologies (Technology & Realization). I can use these working prototypes efficiently in my user validations where I've grown to be accustomed to do qualitative and quantitative research (User & Society). With my experience in statistics and human cognition I'm able to translate abstract findings to concrete requirements for the societal context in question.

Supporting experiences

My competence in design would've never be on this level if it wasn't for a couple of other (extracurricular) experiences I've enjoyed very much. First of all, I've been part of the Departmental Council for multiple years, have functioned as Commissioner of Education for the study association, have been the student advisory member of the Departmental Board and have taken a seat in the accreditation committee for Creative Technology in Enschede.

Furthermore, I have been working in the field of web-development for over 8 years at CODE Internet Applications in Delft and LessOrMore in Eindhoven. This helped me to grow as a professional (Business & Entrepreneurship) when working with customers such as the government, the royal air force or TU Delft.

Finally, I've learned a great deal about craftsmanship from my father. He is a true genius in manipulating the physical world with traditional machining methods. I started as sceptical, because of our societal focus on new technologies. But now I've grown to someone with a high appreciation for material quality, finish, etc. It has proven to be an elegant way of interfacing with the digital world.

All these experiences contributed to my drive to deliver high-quality physical-digital products. A big thank you to everyone who has been involved!

Future

Last year two fellow students and I started a company: 'Bureau Moeilijke Dingen'. We develop web-based applications together with the hardware involved. Over the past year we've done several projects while graduating (e.g. Lassie). I hope to continue this full-time and create products where the physical and digital world are beautifully merged into one.

the end

Thank you
for reading.

fusing
re-enacting
hiding
embodying
digital world
Math, Data & Computing
engineering
through exploring
Technology & Realization
validating with
implementation
User &
Society
showcase - BSc. Pepijn Verburg - master's program - Industrial Design - University of Technology Eindhoven - copyright 2018